Coming soon to Manchester: The Escape Room

The Escape RoomSometimes it’s a little difficult to know when new exit games are ready to be discussed on this site; people have their own ideas about just how early “too early” might be. However, when a site postsCome and experience our Escape Room in Manchester!” and links to an update entitled “Escape Room Manchester launch – Not just another escape game!” that starts “We will be opening our doors to the public in Manchester very soon” then it would be excessively conservative to continue to keep schtum.

Previously this site has discussed the world’s leading global brands in exit games and noted Escape Room for featuring open games in three countries and “Coming Soon” games in five more. At that point, the site suggested to expect Escape Room to come to Manchester. Happily, the company has made good on that promise! Another of their Tweets saysWe will be launching all over the UK and in Europe soon!” and the global site suggests three locations coming soon in the UK, one of which is in a city absolutely begging to be served and an extremely promising market. Manchester first, though.

And what a centre it is planned to be! The web site refers to the business both by name and by URL as The Escape Room, thus so shall this site. (Hopefully this will help avoid any confusion with the popular and successful Escape Rooms, plural, of London.) Distinctively, the web site suggests there will be five different games on offer, which will make it the number one site in the country in terms of the largest number of different games – overtaking the previous number one, also in Manchester. The titles are The Secret Lab, The Mummy Returns, Prison Break, Room 13 and Slaughter House – so, whether your taste is for science, Egypt, the supernatural or crime, there’s a room to suit.

It would be very interesting to learn whether the games are exactly the same as when they are played on the other side of the world, not least because the Manchester rooms are set to have a time limit of 60 minutes, as is usual for UK facilities, whereas other centres set a time limit of 45 minutes. On the other hand, it’s extremely promising that there are so many other games available within the Escape Room fold, suggesting that this site might be able to swap games relatively quickly. However, five different games should keep most people going for quite a while!

Extremely promising; this site looks forward to learning how the games live up to their very considerable promise. This looks like a very valuable addition to what’s available in the UK, let alone what’s available just in Manchester. Booking has not yet opened, let alone the games opening for business; this site looks forward to spreading the good word when this changes. The site has a cute photo of a grumpy-looking skeleton trapped behind bars. Fingers crossed that you escape within an hour and thus avoid the same fate!

All that said, might Manchester not be the first city outside London to get to three open exit games?

Interview with Ed Roberts, proprietor of Breakout Manchester

Breakout Manchester description graphicThis site has previously discussed the Breakout Manchester exit game business, around two months old but already doing excellent business. It’s a joy to be able to feature an interview with Ed Roberts, the man behind the site. The questions asked by Exit Games are tagged with EG and Ed’s responses with ER below. The opinions are a little feisty in places; no bad thing at all, but be clear that they belong to Ed.

  • EG: What’s your background, leading up to the opening of Breakout Manchester?
  • ER: I’m a director in two other business, Awaken Ibiza and Funk Events, so up until opening Breakout I was running those companies. A lot of the skills developed in running these two businesses have been hugely beneficial in launching Breakout Manchester.
     
  • EG: It’s exciting to see your Tweets from time to time suggesting that Breakout Manchester is selling out days in advance. Can you say more about how well things are going for you?
  • ER: Yeah, things are going remarkably well. Another company opened in Manchester about 2 months before we did and I think it’s struggled. So for us to be selling out a few days in advance and weekends a few weeks in advance I’m really happy.
     
  • EG: Your excellent progress is all the more remarkable given that the site has only been open for about two months. What techniques have worked well for you at getting the word out around Manchester?
  • ER: My background is in advertising, marketing and promotion has been hugely beneficial. We use some fairly advanced social media techniques to promote the venue and I have done promotion in Manchester for the past 7 years I know a lot of people and organisation in the city which have been a big help. In addition to that, word of mouth is one of our strongest attribute, and that comes from people having an excellent experience with us and then those people spreading the word.
     
  • EG: Which puzzles, games and other artworks have influenced you most over the years in your designs?
  • ER: I really enjoy action computer games. Games such as Zelda, Dishonoured, The Room and The Room Two. Also TV programmes such as The Cube and The Crystal Maze. I’ve always been a huge fan of puzzles my whole life.
     
  • EG: What lessons has your background in event promotion taught you about offering good customer service?
  • ER: In terms of customers service probably not a huge amount, this is one thing I have learnt a lot of from doing Breakout. Where it has hugely helped is the promotion, marketing and advertising of the rooms and the venue.
     
  • EG: It was fun to read that representatives from first the Daily Sport and later the Bolton News have visited your site. Do you have any other star guests lined up?
  • ER: Not really guest stars but quite a lot of press will be coming through in the next few weeks.
     
  • EG: What does a typical day for you look like?
  • ER: I normally get to the venue around 7am and do around 3 hours on Awaken Ibiza or Funk Events. I then organise the staff for the day and spread my time between running the games, tweaking the games, promoting and advertising the venue. The venue is also incomplete so various DIY and decoration is still in place. To be honest for the past week it’s been non-stop running of games. I normally finish around 9pm.
     
  • EG: What are the most memorable reactions from players that you have witnessed?
  • ER: The other week we had 4 teenagers with behavioural issues in from Manchester Young Lives. They were accompanied by 3 teachers from the centre. They had all previously been expelled from numerous schools. The 4 of them absolutely loved it and were captivated from start to finish. Their teachers said their concentration spans were normally that of minutes and had never seen them working as a team before. Turning four disinterested teenagers into a team of happy, energetic and proud young adults was a very memorable moment. To see them rave about it afterwards really impacted me. A good escape room game is fantastic for all ages and in all situations. This particular example is a great example of this, and is testament to the quality of the room.
     
  • EG: How are your preparations going for adding a third room at your current location?
  • ER: Extremely slow 🙂 It’s the first room I’ve ever created completely by myself so I want to assure it’s as good as possible. It’s called Madchester so revolves around Manchester, its history and culture. Think the Hacienda, Stone Roses, Oasis, Coronation Street and so on. It will be open at the end of July if it kills me! 🙂 I’ve been to a few other sites around the country and with the exception of all the London sites, Leeds and one of the Bristol ones, some of them are very poor and I want to assure that my centre is as good as it possibly can be. If someone has a bad experience of an escape game it will put them off for life which would be such a shame.
     
  • EG: Can you reveal anything about your longer-term plans after that?
  • ER: We have the capacity to open another one maybe two rooms in Manchester so my focus is on that and to create some games which push the boundaries of the industry. I’ve got a lot of ideas of how escape rooms can break out of their current mould and I want to explore that. Why do they have to be an hour long for example? Could a escape room be more story driven? It’s exciting times for the industry as a whole.
     
  • EG: If you could give the readers, escape game players and puzzle fans reading this one piece of advice, what would it be?
  • ER: Play The Room and The Room Two on a tablet. Then come to Breakout 🙂

Thanks so much for that, Ed! Note also that last week, Breakout Manchester posted to their Facebook feed that:

Breakout Manchester is recruiting. We need game organisers, makers and technicians. Part time flexible hours available. Must have good customer service skills. If interested please send your CV to hello@breakoutmanchester.com and the days and hours that you are available to work.

Full-time and part-time roles are available, so as well as there being a good opportunity to play the site’s games, perhaps there’s a good opportunity for the right people to be involved from the other side as well!

Virus Alert

Breakout Manchester's "Virus" graphicWith the discussion of the last week, perhaps there’s reason to be grateful that this doesn’t refer to any particular dangerous, insidious computer virus and refers to the strictly fictitious virus that is the subject of Breakout Manchester‘s upcoming second exit game room, advertised on the site as being due to open on Friday 6th June. It looks like quite a few sessions have been booked already.

“Can you slow down the outbreak and find the cure? You only have 60 minutes to do so or the fate of mankind may be in jeopardy. Our 2nd and newest room in Breakout Manchester. This room is completely unique and you will not find it anywhere else in the world.” Some early construction photos suggest that there is, as you might expect, a laboratory theme. The room may well also have a great deal of natural light, which is a little unusual when many sites don’t mind, or even embrace, a hint of claustrophobia to spur you on to escape. The theme and photos seem promising; this site looks forward to seeing Breakout Manchester’s first original room.

Breakout Manchester are conscientious about posting photos of their teams; while this is by no means unique to them, the players always seem to have had lots of fun. Whilst taking these photos in front of a wall, or a window, with the site’s name on is something of an exit room cliché, Breakout Manchester’s wall always particularly brings to mind a football manager’s post-game press conference held in front of a matrix of team sponsor logos. (Not a bad thing in the least!) Perhaps the logical conclusion would be the Italian press conference approach where the sponsor logos scroll along on a loop behind the manager as they talk…

If you’re not in Manchester, there are several exciting pieces of exit game news coming up soon that this site looks forward to sharing. Before then, the New York Times yesterday featured a superb piece about exit games, particularly the interaction and crossover between games and immersive theatre. The piece touches on other work by the theatre company Punchdrunk and also Gone Home; maybe the piece’s most significant original contribution is the collation of game designers’ quotes about exit games, but it does a fine job of neatly illustrating the common points of reference. Recommended reading!

Breakout Manchester

Breakout Manchester logoManchester is set to join London and Bristol as a city with two different exit game sites with the launch of Breakout Manchester. The web site’s “Rooms” page suggests that the first room opened on Saturday 17th May, which seems to be as convincing a claim for an opening date as any, especially as one of their Tweets suggests that they had their first team win on Sunday 18th May. The site’s booking system suggests that bookings are available from Tuesday 20th May onwards; there’s a phone number quoted on the site if you wanted to confirm a booking for the very near future. The off-peak price is particularly attractive.

The site has a really exciting web presence, suggesting that while only one game is open at the moment, there are plans to add three more. I especially like the look of the second game, set to open in June, entitled Madchester. The description reads:

Manchester is famous for many things: football, relentless rain, musicians and bands such as the Smiths, Stone Roses and Oasis, Coronation Street, incredible night clubs such as the Hacienda, The Warehouse Project and Sankeys and artists such as LS Lowry. But what links all these things? What is Manchester trying to hide? This room may reveal the truth….

This sounds like a really distinctive and exciting prospect; the concept of trying to incorporate some local flavour into an exit room would provide a reason to travel from afar to play, and Manchester has more flavour to draw from than most locations. It’s not clear whether the game will be about the 24 Hour Party People sort of Madchester, but the prospect of it makes you want to step on to this one so you can have your melon twisted.

Unusually, there is one factor which might, under certain circumstances, make you want to hold off playing until the second room opens. The first room is John Monroe’s Detective Office, and it’s the same room that Mazebase have already installed at HintHunt in London and at Puzzlair in Bristol. If you’ve played it at either of those locations, you might well not be nearly as surprised by it in Manchester. However, both of these are quite a hike from Manchester; if you haven’t played it before, it’s a great game and you’re in for a treat.

Private e-mail discussion suggests that the proprietors have investigated and plenty of the other UK sites, which breeds confidence. Time will tell if the proprietors have learnt from their extensive research and are able to put the theory into practice for their original rooms; more news about these additional rooms as it becomes available.

Up with The Larks

"The Larks" logoManchester group The Larks, formerly known as Larkin’ About, have produced what they describe as “unexpected blends of gaming, interactivity and the theatrical” since 2010. I particularly enjoyed reading about their 2011 Treasure Hunt project in Bristol and Cardiff, Gate Crash; in 2012, I was very disappointed to have to miss the presentation of their work at the local Stockton International Riverside Festival.

More recently, The Larks had a Cornerhouse microcommission at The Point in Eastleigh, where they spent six days developing a project entitled Escape, that bears a considerable degree of similarity to the exit games we know and love. Their progress is described in this Development blog and summarised in the following video:



Their Twitter feed suggests that they are continuing to work on the project (for instance, The Larks’ events page suggests they had a playtest last Tuesday, so look out for further playtests in the future) and I look forward to seeing it come to fruition. With their considerable experience, they could well produce something spectacular, theatrical and distinctive.

The Larks’ Twitter feed is also well worth following for the other links they post; they recently linked to ticket sales for Silent State, coming up in Wrexham on Saturday 10th May. “Music has been banned in the town of Wrexham and silence ensues. The town is now a very different place […] being caught in possession of musical artefacts of any kind comes with a very high price. But there is hope….rumours are spreading behind closed doors of a resistance. […] Silent State is a roaming theatre game and is a mixture of puzzles, music, intrigue and theatrical happenings. The event plays out on the streets of Wrexham town centre and requires participants to move between several locations on foot. Participants will be placed in groups of six – you can come as a ready made group or we can match you up with other players on the day.” The event lasts 1½ hours, will be run three times on 10th May and tickets are a very reasonable £5 per player. The video on the ticket sale page is well worth a look.

Make A Break in Manchester

Make A Break logoIt’s always exciting to find out about new exit game sites. Today I’ve found out about one which opened in the last two weeks, taking the total number of sites open in the UK and Ireland up to double figures. Well, the number of sites I know about, at least; if you know about others, please send details through!

Make A Break opened in Manchester on Sunday 16th March. Their very evocative web site suggests that they have one game, of an hour in duration. It features two videos that set the mood, though are probably taken as mood-setters only rather than previews of what might be found within the game.

The web site suggests an interesting wrinkle in gameplay: “You might get stuck and ask for some help from the quizmaster – just use your walkie-talkie. As it wisely though – there is no free lunch – help comes at a cost: ouch loose some time“. That sounds like a player-friendly policy and should ensure that people keep having fun throughout the hour; I’m curious to know how well it works in practice and suspect it may well make for some very close finishes.

The site is so new that I haven’t yet found any reviews; it may be worth following the site’s Facebook page. One thing to pay particular attention to is that there is a special offer for bookings made by the end of March; teams of three get a £5/player reduction, teams of 4-5 get a £3/player reduction. It’s possible that the Facebook page may feature further discounts in time, too. Keep watching!